ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — In a dark parking lot, lit only by overhead lights, rain drops fall; the cloud-covered sky hides the moon. The birds aren’t chirping yet but there is a sound. It’s difficult to decipher at first but once it’s distinguishable, it’s apparent of what it has been all along. The sound- footsteps, quickly moving on wet blacktop.
Before the sun rises in the Capital district, nearly 200 young men and women interested in becoming New York State troopers are awake. They’re already running, marching, and training.
“We are about as close to the military as you could possibility get,” said Trooper Jeff Bebak, Troop A’s trooper recruiter. “Whether it’s traditions, values, customs.”
That means every action has a purpose, like teaching recruits discipline through military-style dining halls and bed making.
Every adornment has history like the the troopers uniforms which appear gray but are actually black and white threads woven together to show neutrality; the purple ties representing Roman Praetorian Guard, who were responsible for the safety of the Head of State, just as the State Police are the Governor’s Police force.
Every movement is regimented.
And it has been this way for a century.
“When you’re in the academy, it’s day in and day out,” said Trooper Recruit Jessica Reichart, who is from Buffalo. “You’re just like ‘make it to the next sleep; make it the next breakfast.'”
“I had an idea of what to expect but until you go through it, it’s eye opening,” said Recruit Matthew Ross, from Hamburg.
“It’s intense; the best word for it is intense,” said Recruit Brandon Robinson, from Buffalo.
The New York State Police Academy is considered one of the most intense academies in the nation. For six months, recruits spend time from sun up to sun down being tested in some way; everything is evaluated and calculated.
“We’re doing a six month boot camp,” said Trooper Jim O’Callaghan. “It’s very similar to a military academy with about 30 credit hours of college in that six months.”
The recruits are spending time learning defensive tactics, going through firearms training, retaining legal information.
“The big, important things is officer safety,” said Recruit Reichart.
The future troopers are spending hours in the classroom followed by more time in their dorm-style rooms preparing for the exams they must pass. The have 3 tests including all of the information they’re learning while in the academy. They must get a 70 or above and only have two tries to pass it. If they fail, they’re sent home.
“You always get nervous,” said Recruit Robinson who adds that he feels the exams are the most challenging part of the academy.
The recruits test scores determine class rank and they are placed on assignments at different troops around New York State based on that rank.
“It’s not been easy, that’s for sure,” said Recruit Reichart. “It’s definitely mentally and emotionally challenging.”
And then there’s also the physical training exams too. Recruits must run 1.5 miles, do push ups, and sit ups all in a certain amount of time. Sitting out and on the sidelines isn’t an option for the future State Troopers.
The Physical Training troopers watch on as the recruits run through something called the Fatigue Challenge which includes burpees, push ups, and squats, accompanied by sprinting. The recruits must do these sets ten times in under 20 minutes.
“You guys are a team right?” asks one trooper to a group of recruits already finished their workout, watching their classmates continue on. “Work with each other.”
The recruits, already winded, start doing extra sets to help their classmates finish strong and on time.
“All you really got when you’re here is to lean on each other,” said Recruit Ross. “You can’t do it by yourself. When times get tough you look to your left and right.”
For a century now, thousands of troopers who came through the academy before Recruit Ross have had the same mentality. That’s part of what creates the customs and traditions the State Police hold dear.
“You have this unique bond,” said Recruit Reichart. “I don’t think people realize. You care about these people like your family.”
After spending six months together, the day has come where the recruits will take the stage, a moment many say they feel will be the proudest of their life.
No matter where life takes them, they’ll always have one thing in common – being a part of the centennial class marking 100 years of service to those across the state.
“Having an opportunity to leave my mark and carry on that tradition that was set long before me – i’ts a tremendous feeling of pride [for me] to be a part of the centennial class,” said Robinson, standing tall while adjusting his stetson and name badge, preparing for what comes next.